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29 October 2014
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Monarch of the Glen

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Live Chat
Michael Chaplin
Michael Chaplin, Monarch creator and key scriptwriter joined us for a live chat on Sunday 30th November after the finale of series 5.
Michael had the initial idea of adapting Compton Mackenzie's novels in a contemporary Highland setting to create "Monarch of the Glen", and is still heavily involved in the production.

The first question came from Lucy: Is there going to be a sixth series as there are talks about you having been 'commissioned for the 6th series'. I thought this was the end for the Boglies. (Please say it's true!)
Michael Chaplin: No. I am happy to say there is going to be a sixth series. As well as a special which is going to be transmitted over Xmas and New Year. So hopefully there will be a happy return to Glenbogle for everyone!

Question from Laura: How did you come up with the idea for Monarch of the Glen and did you have any idea that it would be such a success?
Michael Chaplin: The idea started with a book by a man called Compton Mackenzie. He wrote a book called 'Monarch of the Glen' sixty years ago about the life of a Highland estate in the '30s. We had the idea of taking it and setting it now and making the family debt-ridden and rather impecunious. That was the beginning of the series but we had to invent lots of characters that weren’t in the book. The only characters from the book were Hector, Mollie and Kilwillie. All of the other characters I kind of invented. And to the second part of the question, no, I didn't have any idea that it would be as successful! We hoped it might go to a 2nd series. Of course it has been hugely pleasing that it has gone now into almost 60 episodes and has sold all round the world.

Question from Tim: I am curious about the wonderful casting on "Monarch of the Glen". How extensive is the auditioning process for new characters and do you have the final say on who is hired? The show has a feeling about it which can't be matched by other shows. I think the casting has a lot to do with that.
Michael Chaplin: Yes, I would agree with that. Somehow we ended up with a terrific cast of regulars. All of whom have really made their characters what they are. We took great care with the characters at the beginning and spent a lot of time meeting and talking. We talked with many, many actors. I think we are very lucky with the people that we chose. When it comes to new characters entering the show, no, I don't have the final say. It's a kind of group discussion amongst the producers, executive producers and myself. We have all been together since the show started so we usually agree about these things. All in all I think the casting has been superb.

Question from gingercat: Are you concerned about promoting images of Scotland that aren't current - I realise you do have a blend of tongue-in-cheek "Scottish-ness" and a much more modern outlook which works well... how careful do you have to be about balancing this?
Michael Chaplin: That's a very interesting question. I think when you are setting out to write a show like this you can't really expect to summarise an entire country and culture inside just one show. This is a series set in the Highlands on an estate that's been going for centuries. In other words, it's a very particular and peculiar world and you have to be true as you see it to that world. But we do try to ensure that contemporary Scotland keeps poking its head over the estate walls.

Question from Mikey: Which writers inspired you when you were growing up?
Michael Chaplin: That's another good question. I am thinking about it... apart from anyone else my dad, who was a novelist and short story writer. I loved the novels of Raymond Chandler; the comic novels of Kingsley Amis. And I went to the cinema every week from the time I was about 8 years old. I was brought up in a house full of books. This made it very easy to dip into all kinds of writing. It was a good preparation for what I do now.

Question from Anne W: Do any of the writers read the messageboard, and have you ever been tempted to use any of the fan fiction that was wrote during the past 12 months?
Michael Chaplin: I have read it and I find it fascinating that people get so involved and interested in the show. I haven't been tempted to use any of that material. Partly because I've only written two episodes in the last year and they have both had very specific stories to tell (this includes the departure of Archie.) and also I didn't want to be accused of plagiarism!

Question from jcammidge: Is there a long period of research before commencing with writing a series?
Michael Chaplin: Well there certainly was in this case, because when I was first asked to write or develop Monarch of the Glen I knew absolutely nothing of the world of a Highland estate. I was brought up in Newcastle. I knew nothing about that kind of world, so I made a number of visits to various estates over the course of about 2 months. I met people and saw the kind of life that they lead. This was immensely valuable as well as being hugely enjoyable. I met some great characters who were very kind in letting me into their way of life for a few hours. That was the starting point.

Question from Dominic: You've had the experience of pitching your programme ideas either as a writer, or listening to peoples ideas in the commissioning process (when you were at BBC Wales). But from being on either side of the process, what side do you prefer being involved?
Michael Chaplin: Well both sides were enjoyable. It's always very exciting being part of a creative dialogue about an idea. And, as a writer, I always appreciate ideas that come from people that I am pitching to. But the experience I had before I started writing of being pitched at has certainly proved to be very valuable. I hope I know what constitutes a good idea!

Question from cwgbell: In one episode you made a cameo appearance as a Geordie road worker - any more planned?
Michael Chaplin: This appearance was in the episode after Hector died and was the episode in which his funeral took place. I wanted to ensure that his funeral was definitely not routine, so constructed an episode in which the horses on his hearse ran away. His coffin had to be carried into church by some road menders. I thought it would be fun if I wrote myself a little part as the chief road mender. Of course he had to wear a Newcastle United shirt. In a way it was my tribute to Richard Briers and his wonderful evocation of Hector. I don't think I'll be inflicting my acting on the British public again!

Comment from Hannah: This summer I visited Monarch of the Glen country with my family. We retraced your steps from the moment you had arrived at Glenbogle station. I can well understand how you felt as the area is so breathtaking. We took your advice and visited Glen Feshie. It was like going into another world. I brought a few pebbles back to create my own Feshie so that I could revisit it in my mind whenever I needed to. Thankyou.

Question from Judith: Is Golly's role going to get a higher profile? He's a super character, silent but sensitive, and I would love to see more storylines with him playing a bigger part.

Michael Chaplin: I think with many of the characters who played smaller parts to begin with, their roles have expanded in the last 2 series since Hector departed. Many people expected that when Hector went the series would decline a little bit but because the other characters, including Golly, and the terrific actors playing them are so strong, that hasn't happened. I am sure Golly will carry on playing a very important part in the series in the future. I think Sandy Morton is a tremendous actor. Everything is so understated. Which is why his playing of emotion is so effective.

Question from Gillian: How do you feel about the character shift that was necessary to allow Archie's departure from the show? How do you think this will work in the future?
Michael Chaplin: I think we all faced it with trepidation. After all Archie is, or was, the Monarch of the Glen. But it is one of the pitfalls of any long running series that eventually leading actors will want to go off and do something else with their lives. I think Archie's departure worked well and was convincing and the last few episodes have shown, as before with Hector, that there is plenty of good material and good stories with the other characters. Obviously the introduction of new characters has to be done very carefully.

Question from Rachel: There have been some great scenes in Monarch of the Glen. Are there any that really stand out for you as being very pivotal or perhaps just hilarious?
Michael Chaplin: Yes, every so often when we get together to talk over the show we play this game. It's very difficult because I have lots of favourite moments. I remember the moment before Hector actually died, which was when his pet dog Useless dropped the explosives at his feet, which was absolutely not what he was supposed to do! Richard Briers looked at the explosives and then at the dog and just said “Ah...” I also remember a scene in a very early episode, in which Fleming the Banker spent a very sleepless night and he told Archie that he had heard animals in the night howling and moaning. Archie said, “That would have been my father.”

On a more emotional note, the scene in the episode in which Archie left when Golly asked his permission to ask Molly to marry him was very moving. I was very touched, even though I wrote it myself (laughs). This sometimes happens when you are a writer. It's great!
Question from Angharad: It wasn't until I started reading comments on the various MotG message boards that I realised that the continuity of factual details between the episodes and series has been pretty inaccurate in places. I remember reading that long running series, like the Archers on Radio 4, have comprehensive archives which the writers use to ensure facts about characters are consistent. Are there plans for the writers to take a look back at the continuity thing before the new series?

Michael Chaplin: There is what's called a series bible in which the most important details of the character's lives are written down. Some new writers look at it and of course the scripts are checked very carefully by people who have been with the show from the beginning. Including, of course, the actors themselves, who are very watchful guardians of their own characters. Despite all this I am sure that discrepancies have crept in. I don't know of any absolute howlers but if there have been and they have spoilt people's enjoyment then obviously I'm sorry.

Question from Janey: How did the idea for the Hogmanay special evolve?
Michael Chaplin: That's a good question. One of the important things about the special without giving away too many details…If I did that I'd get in trouble with the BBC! …is that we wanted to have an episode in which Paul really grasped what you might call his inheritance. The episode if you like, in which he becomes the Monarch of the Glen. So that was one thing. The other important issue was that it needed in some way to be special to appeal to an audience at holiday time. So I thought the idea of a spooky old house in the middle of winter offered a potential for a ghost story so that's what I've written. It also offered the opportunity for some interesting casting and I am not going to say anything else about that at the moment!

Question from hilly1987: Where do you get your inspiration from, when you are writing the scripts?
Michael Chaplin: I am happy to say, touching wood here, I've never really had writer's block. To me, I get up every morning and I go to work just like everyone else. And like everyone else, some days will go better than others, but I just work hard at it. Ideas come in a whole variety of ways, visiting places, talking to people, reading things in newspapers. When it comes to Monarch ideas, visiting the house by the water usually produces something. It's always been a quite magical place for me from the very first time I saw it. The series only began to take shape in my mind when I went there for the first time. That's when my mind began working on the characters and how they might all fit together in this place.

Comment from AvrilSw: I agree, the whole area has a magical appeal that keeps drawing you back!
Comment from fifi: Well you write very well!

Question from Jenny: Series 5 of Monarch has been very different to previous series, how much involvement did you have with this development?
Michael Chaplin: I think for a long running series it has to change in some ways. Otherwise it would just stagnate. I think with this series we've seen slightly more of the wider community around Glenbogle but the heart of it has remained the house and the people who live in it. I don't have a problem with this, although my favourite episodes always tend to be the ones in which just our regular characters appear and they are just reacting with each other. Often we do have one or two guest characters, as with tonight's episode, which I thought was really well written and acted and the guest characters worked really well in it.
Comment from Nics: If you ever get writer's block Michael, maybe you could pop into the Laird's Legs pub on the messageboard and the Boglies could give you a hand with series 6 ideas! Lol

Question from Sarah: I’m doing drama for my GCSEs. What qualifications do I need for a job like yours?
Michael Chaplin: (laughing) To be a writer you don't need any qualifications! You just need to be interested in people and have a passion for describing them. You can't really be taught writing but you can learn. I very much hope that I am still learning myself. I first started writing when I was about your age and then stopped for about 15 years. You really can start writing at whatever age in life. It beats working!

Question from Jo: A few years ago I saw 'The Beautiful Game' at Newcastle Theatre Royal. Did you enjoy being involved with that and do you have any more plans for theatre projects?
Michael Chaplin: How great that you saw the play. I loved doing that project because it involved two of my passions - the theatre and Newcastle United. I've written a number of plays for a terrific theatre company in Newcastle called Live Theatre. We've been talking about the possibility of my writing a play for them next year. I love writing for the theatre. It's great being part of an audience which is watching something you've written. With television you don't often get that feeling of closeness, apart from now that is!

Final question from Lauren: If you were asked to produce a spin off series once Monarch was over (hopefully not in the near future!) what would you create, and which characters would it involve?
Michael Chaplin: Oh gosh that's a really difficult question. This might sound a boring answer but I'm not sure I altogether approve of spin-off series. Monarch of the Glen is what it is and I think if you tried to do something else with one or two of the characters it just wouldn't work. I would love to work with the actors on other projects because I think they are terrific.
And some final thoughts from Michael: I would just like to thank everybody for their very interesting questions and for their support for the show which has made it what it is. Monarch has been an important part of my life for the last five years, and let's hope that carries on. Thanks very much.

Next Chat - Martin Compston from Series 6>>
Glenbogle House


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